What Runners Should Eat: 4 Tips for Race Day Nutrition

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Race day nutrition is one of the most critical aspects of running successfully. The longer the race, the more important it becomes. Even if you are in the best shape of your life, if you do not fuel and hydrate appropriately, your race might not go as anticipated.


Whether it is 5 degrees or 85, making sure you get the right nutrients race day is crucial. However, this does not mean having a lot of carbohydrates the night before a race: Race nutrition and fueling is so much more than that!

Here are a few tips to perfect your race day nutrition:

1) Don’t overthink it

Eat calorie-dense but simple foods. On race day, you want as much energy as possible without frequent trips to the bathroom.

The days leading up to race day is not the time to change eating habits or try and eat “as healthy as possible.” If your body is not used to it, it could cause more harm than good. As tempting as it is, save the fun foods or trying something new for after the race.

2) Practice makes perfect

The golden rule of running is: never try anything new on race day.

You should practice fueling and nutrition strategies during long runs and training. Don’t rely on a new gel, or energy source to get you through a race.

It might very well work, however, it could also cause you to spend the rest of your race with cramps or send you to the bathroom frequently.

The best thing to do is simulate your race day during long runs. Wake up, eat the same breakfast, go through the same routine as race day, and use the same gels. That way when the race rolls around “you’ve been there, done that.”

Don’t leave anything to chance!

3) Hydrate before

Chances are when you feel thirsty during a race, it’s too late. Hydration is tricky, and it is based on your individual needs, the heat, and humidity.

For longer races, including half marathons, make sure to drink something with electrolytes. The basic rule is to drink before you are thirsty and throughout the day.

4) Don’t skip a breakfast

It’s not uncommon to hear a runner mention they don’t eat breakfast. Personally, I eat the same breakfast (a waffle with peanut butter) whether I’m running or not.

Breakfast is the most important meal. As soon as you get up on race morning, drink water and eat. If you feel like you don’t digest food well, eat earlier or even try liquid calories. It is important to iron out issues during your training run beforehand.

Nutrition is very individualized to the runner and what works for one person, won’t work for others. As long as it works for you, that’s what matters.

Ultimately, training runs and long runs should serve as practice for your race day. There isn’t a magic food, gel, or piece of nutrition that will cause you to PR, but if you iron out nutrition issues during training, you’ll be set for race day.

Hollie Sick is an avid runner who’s completed more than 40 half marathons. Read her blog, or follow her on Facebook.

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